[Monsterhearts] One-Shot?

edited August 2012 in Story Games
I seem to remember there was a Monsterhearts one-shot set up floating around here a while ago. Maybe something like "Blood at the Prom?" I feel like Monsterhearts needs several sessions to shine, but I'm being recruited to run a demo of it, so I'd like to take a look at anything people have done in a similar vein so I can help make the game appropriately blow people's socks off. You know, because it should. Anybody?

Comments

  • My friend Jacob was working on some things like this; his internet access is sporadic, but I'll direct him here if he can help.

    - Alex
  • Someone at GPNW had a pretty awesome "Beach Party" oneshot with some spicy set-up questions. Don't know if it's available online, though! Or who that person's name was, or else I would do a search, but maybe somebody else knows what I'm talking about? It's the party you would kill to attend.
  • I did a thing. It was called "Blood at the Prom". I ran it at Dexcon. Thuh End.

    I wanted to create a one-shot scenario, serving a similar role that of The Blood of Misty Harbour (or the Mists of Bloody Harbour or whatever the heck its name was), except for more players than just 3 and the MC. I wrote out characters, with some moves pre-chosen, names pre-chosen, look pre-chosen, interrelationships pre-chosen, and presented them to the players. Let them choose who to play, and then played.

    It went okay. I had some ideas for how to fix it immediately, some of them revolving around a hierarchy of characters ("This character must be chosen," "This character can be chosen only if that one and that one have been chosen,") some of them revolving around outright eliminating certain characters (I'm not 100% sure that the Witch worked). That said, I'd be happy to regurgitate what I've got, or send you the document with that info, and get some feedback, particularly if you'd be so awesome as to give it a whirl yourself.

    Here's kind of a summary:

    It might be a modern day embodiment of an ancient ritual of power. It might be a stupid, outdated ceremony that you want to burn to the ground. It might be your last chance to find something to keep you tethered to this mortal life. It might just be an excuse to wear some pretty clothes, dance with some pretty people, and have some sex. Whatever it is, prom is important to you, and it's just around the corner. Who are you going with?

    Characters include:
    - Ophelia, the drug-dealing Infernal who works for the school principal
    - Mara, the Ghoul who was forced back to life to wreak havoc on the people who didn't even care enough about her to know that she died
    - Drake, the Queen who discovered the Light within him and who wants to share it with the world by sleeping with as many people as he can
    - Max, the Hollow and former metaphysical, unembodied concept of human solitude, who was forced into human existence by Drake's actions, and who has to decide to either return to being a concept or remain a human by the end of the Prom
    - Luna, the newcomer Werewolf who is determined to make sure that this time, this school, she's popular, she's loved, and no one has to die
    - Gerard, the Witch who thinks he can harness the power of the ritual that is prom to transcend this goddamn school and all these goddamn people

  • edited August 2012
    I played a pick-up one-shot that worked well . The main reasons, I think, being:
    - there were five players so the plot was driven by their relationship dynamics, rather than anything the MC had to conjure
    - the MC kept it tight, limiting the number of named NPCs (to 5 IIRC, excluding goons, and 2 were Scoobies in any case) and reincorporating like mad
    - the darkest selves came out quickly
    - several players were treating their own characters as stolen cars - stolen police cars

    I'm also planning a one-shot for Concrete Cow called 'The Big Game', centering around a high school sports event, and considering how best to run it. I think there's some scope in pre-planning aspects of the town (I'm looking at DitV for inspiration there) and a potential front, but really the critical decision is whether to fix characters or allow the players free choice. If you don't fix characters you'll never be able to plan too far ahead.

    My current thinking is that, from the one-shots I've seen, having the players read through and decide on their playbook and do backstory set-up seems to take a disproportionate amount of time. _However_ having them all browsing through what's on offer feels like such a part of a Monsterhearts experience that I'm not going to cut it.

    I am, though, more than happy to limit the number of skins to focus on those that a) fit the tone of the game I'm planning to run and b) connect _better_ with the other PCs. How a skin plays out will always depend on the particular player, but equally I think that some skins are inherently more in-yer-face and quicker to get running and powering a plot than others which tend towards the slow-burn.
  • Someone on Story Games suggested that you pitch it as "We create the pilot for the coolest, bloodiest HBO teen horror series ever". I did just that. The setup took two hours - the characters, the homeroom, the whole lot - the game another two. We started slow, like it was a pilot. It snowballed very quickly. In the end there were a lot of loose ends and we would've wanted to continue. Very, very much.

    I think it was a great way to introduce to game. The players came in knowing what we were about to do so they didn't expect a regular oneshot.
  • edited August 2012
    I've run a couple one shots, each roughly four hours. I wouldn't want to go shorter with this game, just because it does take time to get the PCs established. But as Epistolary said, it's such an integral part of the game, I wouldn't want to monkey with it.

    Both games had school events that helped shape the narative a bit, the first an upcoming dance, which led to people looking for dates, and the second an actual dance. So much blood and destruction on the dancefloor. So much.

    I think my next one shot may be set at an amusement park the night of Halloween...
  • edited August 2012
    ...really the critical decision is whether to fix characters or allow the players free choice. If you don't fix characters you'll never be able to plan too far ahead.

    My current thinking is that, from the one-shots I've seen, having the players read through and decide on their playbook and do backstory set-up seems to take a disproportionate amount of time. _However_ having them all browsing through what's on offer feels like such a part of a Monsterhearts experience that I'm not going to cut it.

    I am, though, more than happy to limit the number of skins to focus on those that a) fit the tone of the game I'm planning to run and b) connect _better_ with the other PCs. How a skin plays out will always depend on the particular player, but equally I think that some skins are inherently more in-yer-face and quicker to get running and powering a plot than others which tend towards the slow-burn.
    That really feels like the issue with thinking about a one-shot here, right? I've designed a one-shot for AW, but that one-shot mostly consists of a setting with several key characteristics defined but others left open; a limited group of playbooks, but without anything defined for those characters; and my own personal set of moves for insanity. It works pretty well, I've found, and all without defining the characters in the slightest. I have a few NPCs named in advance, with their threat types essentially planned, but those I can easily change on the fly, so that hasn't been an issue.

    In thinking about a Monsterhearts one-shot, though, the issue became apparent that simply having a setting wouldn't be enough, because in Monsterhearts the setting is the relationships. I could dream up a high school, and a town, and even make a seating chart with some NPCs filled in, but I feel much more strongly that without the added component of the PCs, you can't really come up with that much to lower time requirements in actual play. Monsterhearts lives and dies in those relationships between the characters, both PC and NPC, and for me it seems that a lot of that initial set up time in a Monsterhearts game comes down to establishing those messy relationships. If you make the PCs in advance, you can preset some messy establishments, and that will significantly lower the time necessary to set up the one-shot...but I've often found that figuring out those relationships can be a great experience all on its own.

    Extrapolating to one-shots in general, I feel like I, personally, have sometimes had difficulty in games where I choose a pre-made character, even if there's some room for my own embellishment, because I get so invested in the character when I make it. (In video game terms, this is one of the reasons why the Witcher 2 doesn't seem to grab me as well as Mass Effect did.) As such, I was actually pretty reluctant to come up with a scenario that had characters pre-made, and I was petrified that the players wouldn't be interested in playing these dopes I had dreamed up. Ultimately, the players seemed to take to the characters, but I think it required a bit of time to get the gears spinning, perhaps more than it would've taken if they had made the characters themselves. (Or, it could've been that it was the very last slot of the entire convention, and we were all exhausted.)

    For a Monsterhearts one-shot, do you think you'd be okay, coming in and finding pre-made characters, but with room for embellishment (final moves unchosen, strings not all assigned, and of course other descriptive touches waiting to be added)? Do you think it's particularly helpful to pre-plan a one-shot where you just design the town and the seating chart, maybe, but nothing else? How important is it to you to have the whole Monsterhearts experience, including full invention of the town, the seating chart, the NPCs, and the PCs, during the one-shot?


  • The idea of a Monsterhearts one-shot with pre-generated characters just makes me wonder why I would even want to play/run it. I mean, it will still be fun I am sure but it's just not the game -- it's like some amputated version of the game, hobbling around and wishing it had legs to kick ass with.

    Moreover I just don't see what you get out of picking all this stuff for the players, other than slightly less engaged players and slightly more time. It just doesn't take that long to pick stuff from your playbook -- that's kind of the whole joy of the playbook technology, of the 'choose from a list' design. The background questions and home room stuff takes longer, sure -- but that's because you're already playing the game by that point.

    I think there is definitely stuff that can and should be done to make a one-shot run smoothly and quickly -- limiting the Skins is a big one, and having a major school event (or small town event, or both) in mind is also a great idea. Having a list of killer, targeted homeroom-questions is also essential. But none of that requires that you hand people pre-genned characters in a game where coming up with an awesome character and figuring out how they relate to everyone else is kind of the whole point.

    A lot of the skill in running a good Monsterhearts one-shot is probably just encouraging the players to get on with it, pushing them through Skin-picking, etc. with brisk enthusiasm -- but I am a chronically slow chooser-of-stuff, and none of the one-shots I have played in felt like they dragged at all. In every case we just played the game, with complete character generation, and it worked great.
  • Someone on Story Games suggested that you pitch it as "We create the pilot for the coolest, bloodiest HBO teen horror series ever". I did just that. The setup took two hours - the characters, the homeroom, the whole lot - the game another two. We started slow, like it was a pilot. It snowballed very quickly. In the end there were a lot of loose ends and we would've wanted to continue. Very, very much.

    I think it was a great way to introduce to game. The players came in knowing what we were about to do so they didn't expect a regular oneshot.
    That's me, and it's been a big hit, slow startup, loose ends and all, every time I've run it that way. It's SUCH a series-optimized game that trying to mess with that part of it too much really alters it on a genetic level, I think.

    As long as you set everyone's expectations right off the bat, you'll get some amazing gameplay.
  • One tweaked that I've used for shorter games is to not have anyone pick an exclusively XP granting move, and then give everyone a free advance to take an (exclusively) XP granting move. Interesting XP moves add to the game, but they are unlikely to even re-pay the cost of the move, let alone be worth taking, in any sort of one shot.
  • edited August 2012
    My gut feel is that if there were pre-set characters for a MH game I would assume that the MC probably had a pretty clear direction of where they wanted the story to go, which would probably make me more reactive and less proactive as a player. I would assume that there was a whole scenario to go with it and that the MC would guide us through.

    And yet I think of a game like Love in the Time of Seid, Witch or Anarktica where you have pre-set characters and those games can work too, so I think there must be some traction to be had in MH pre-sets if written with a similar mind-set to those games. Using a theatrical analogy, there is a bit of Shakespeare/modern writing divide here. No matter how much people love originating a part, there's still demand to put your own spin on a 'classic character'.

    I think having a town ready pre-planned is fine. As you say, the true setting is the relationships, the town can just be colour.
    "We create the pilot for the coolest, bloodiest HBO teen horror series ever"
    I like Jim's elevator pitch and will homage/mercilessly steal it. But I think there's still a few ways to reclaim time from the set-up described in the book:
    - Cut the number of available skins (specifically those that don't enthuse you or are slow-burners)
    - Picking skins - instead of reading out each one, just let the players browse the skins on their own and give the group another task at the same time. Have the players who've pick their name, appearance and origin on their own
    - Ignore experience, highlighting stats and advancement
    - If players can't make a decision about which skin move to take, let them decide mid-game
    - Have a single page summary of the player reference sheet (as well as the reference sheet) for players to read while the others are still choosing their skin

    It might be a misconception that you need to design the town and seating chart at the beginning. The book actually says do a seating chart sometime in the first session, so I'd only bother about this in a one-shot if I'm setting a significant scene in the school room. If not, then I think the NPCs created as part of the character backstory, plus whatever I get some provocative questioning should be enough. If I do set a scene in the classroom then I might just ask where they sit as a guide to their impression of their character and to help visualise the scene.

  • The idea of a Monsterhearts one-shot with pre-generated characters just makes me wonder why I would even want to play/run it. I mean, it will still be fun I am sure but it's just not the game -- it's like some amputated version of the game, hobbling around and wishing it had legs to kick ass with.

    Moreover I just don't see what you get out of picking all this stuff for the players, other than slightly less engaged players and slightly more time. It just doesn't take that long to pick stuff from your playbook -- that's kind of the whole joy of the playbook technology, of the 'choose from a list' design. The background questions and home room stuff takes longer, sure -- but that's because you're already playing the game by that point.
    As far as I can tell, what you get -- in theory, at least -- is the ability to run in a two hour slot. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I gather that two hours is the default slot length for Games on Demand. Now, one can run a game that will take two slots, so long as one makes it clear up front, but if you're walking into a situation where two hours is the norm, it's understandable to ask, "Okay, how can I squeeze this into two hours?"

    That said, having played in Brendan's Monsterhearts and Apocalypse World Games (though not Blood at the Prom), I agree with his take. AW with a pre-existing setting works. AW with limited skin choices and certain things that must be true about individual characters works, because these things are independent of which skin is chosen, which move is chosen, and so on. The relationships are important, but choosing only these and not the setting saves time. Monsterhearts has already done the heavy lifting for the setting. I mean, sure, you can add lots of details, and that's really cool, but all you need is "Okay, there's a school, and you all go to it", and we know what our genre conventions are. Big or small town, trailer park or mall, all of this affects the game, sure, but not in the same way as who the ghoul loves, but pushed away out of fear she'll eat him alive, and not in a fun way.

    Again, in theory, Blood of Misty Harbour was designed to deal with this, presuming three players. Anyone run any of it yet?
Sign In or Register to comment.